Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

RIP, Ramblin’ Ruth

Earlier this week, I logged on to Facebook and saw a post from an old college classmate saying that a favorite instructor of ours had just passed away. Soon, there were a few other posts from other classmates expressing sadness and dismay over her death. Ruth McKenney taught acting and voice and various other classes in the theater department at Southwest Missouri State University while I was a student there in the 90s. She had a head full of fiery red curls and eyes that could look right into you and laser-focus on all the stuff you thought you were hiding so well. We joked that she didn’t just teach theater, she taught Intro to Life 101.

She had a tough love approach with all her students — one that I found bristling at times, but mostly reassuring. She was one of the few adults I’d ever met who could really tell it like it was without being patronizing and making you feel like a kid. And even though her word sometimes stung, you knew they always came from a place of caring. She just wanted us to be the best versions of ourselves we could be. She always saw our potential.

When I was 18, 19, 20, she represented a version of adult I hoped to know more of, if not grow into myself some day. She was wild and fun and full of life — the quintessential eccentric — and we loved her for it. And she loved all of us — her students and her actors and her colleagues. If you were lucky enough to know her, even just a little bit, she loved you. We were her “Poochies” and “Beasties” and “Turk-a-Lurks.” In class, she told us to nickname ourselves, alliteratively. I was Winsome Wendy (she was Ramblin’ Ruth, or Ruth Rambler, depending what season it was). Unlike most adults in our lives, she encouraged us to skip class occasionally and go have real adventures. “Oh, quit should-ing all over yourselves,” she’d say, when any of us would sigh in a world-weary way only a dramatic 19-year-old with a to-do list could. She told us to hug trees and howl at the moon. She told us to take care of each other.

On Facebook this week, dozens and dozens of us have turned her page into a digital memorial, sharing memories, posting old photos, and basically reminiscing about that special time in our lives when our “should-do’s” were small, our adventures great, and for most of us, things like death and loss and growing old seemed a million years away. And now this wonderful leader of ours who helped guide so many of us into adulthood and encouraged us to embrace our inner wierdos and be the best versions of ourselves is gone. And I missed my chance to tell her thank you.

There’s a photo of her on Facebook with a comment underneath she left a couple years back: “you’ll never know just how much i love you” goes out to ALL my darling poochies……….sing it out loud to yourselves, if you know that ole songie! xxoo r. rambler”

Here’s hoping she knew.

13 comments… add one
  • Diablo July 5, 2013, 4:24 pm

    Great memoir, Wendy. I had a number of profs who had similar impacts on me, and they shaped the adult I became (or hope to become one day). Possibly my most earth-shaking moment was when my freshman English prof, (privately in his office) asked me how i saw myself. I was 17 in 1983, very young and naive, and had just gotten through a high school experience where I tried not to exist in anyone’s eyes, because that just made you a target. I lackadaisically replied, “oh, i dunno, kinda laidback…” (“laidback” was an important word in those days, silly as it sounds now). He replied, “Really, because i see you as quite an intense young man.” My little brain went, “huh!” So I cultivated “intense” for a while, then gradually dialed it back to something normal people could conceive of dealing with, and… here i am.

    Shoutouts to Bill Slights, Mary Day and Eric Dayton from the University of Saskatchewan!

    Reply Link
  • Addie Pray July 5, 2013, 4:26 pm

    That was sweet. I’ve had a Rambling Ruth or two in my life and am very grateful.

    Cheers to all the Rambling Ruths!

    Reply Link
  • TECH July 5, 2013, 4:51 pm

    It’s amazing how big your problems seem when you’re young. I wish I could shake my 20 year old self and tell her all I have learned.
    I guess that’s what this site is about in a way. People who can give their perspective to others who are struggling. People who give you tough love, but ultimately care, and want you to be the best you can be.
    Maybe in a way Ramblin’ Ruth had something to do with Dear Wendy!

    Reply Link
    • Wendy July 5, 2013, 6:52 pm


      Reply Link
  • Classic July 5, 2013, 6:52 pm

    I always remember Mr. Rice from 6th grade. He was a good teacher. None since then.

    Reply Link
  • CatsMeow July 5, 2013, 8:39 pm

    Wow, she sounds like a character in a movie! Did she ever almost get fired for being too awesome until all the students rallied together and proved how awesome she is in some dramatic fashion?

    Also, does anyone here know about pinched nerves? I woke up yesterday with a numb finger. It is only the top half of my right index finger, and it’s totally numb. It’s driving me nuts. I guess it’s a nerve problem, but isn’t it kinda weird to be just that small area that’s affected?

    Reply Link
    • d2 July 5, 2013, 10:37 pm

      No pinched nerves, but when I am in cold or under stress, I get Raynaud’s Phenomena, which is a constriction of blood flow in the tips of my fingers that results in numbness. That is often accompanied by a change in color because of the lack of blood flow. For that, warm water and rubbing the affected finger tips help. Wikipedia has a basic overview.

      Reply Link
      • CatsMeow July 5, 2013, 10:42 pm

        Ooh, I’ve heard Raynaud’s is pretty painful. I’m sorry. Do you get the full range of color changes? I *just* learned about it in nursing school but I’ve never known anyone that has it.

      • d2 July 5, 2013, 11:26 pm

        I don’t get pain, just numbness, color change, and pins-and-needles tingling when the blood reflows. The dramatic color change is freaky though. I’ve been told that in mild cases there is no color change. Mine started after a case of frostbite.

  • d2 July 5, 2013, 9:38 pm

    Oh, I needed a reminder to renew my gratitude awareness.

    There was one person in college who believed in me and gave me opportunities for learning that led to grad school and in turn the life I have today. Thanks Mac.

    Reply Link
  • Katie July 6, 2013, 12:16 pm

    Aw Wendy that was lovely. I had some great teachers in high school like that, but none in college. My moms best friend actually just retired from my high school, and my mom saw these teachers at her retirement party and they asked about me! I was so surprised they even remembered me.

    So you guys I have had the best 4th ever, probably. There are about 13 of us at my uncles lakehouse and we have been drinking, eating, boating, and laughing and everything. And we got a private fireworks show for the 4th- literally, the people that live in the little bay where my uncle is put a raft out in the middle of it and set of pro fireworks- and then they “compete” with all the others in the bay, so everyone is setting off fireworks like crazy people. And then they did it AGAIN last night! It’s so awesome. I mean like nothing has or probably can compare to this.

    Reply Link
  • Lyra July 6, 2013, 8:30 pm

    This is so touching. I’ve had a few inspirational teachers in my day and they’ve helped me become the person I am today.

    This is kind of off topic but along the same lines of gratitude, I’m beyond thankful for this community. I feel so strong after the break up just yesterday and I KNOW that if I haven’t been reading this site religiously right now I’d be literally holding onto the fact that my now ex boyfriend wants to evaluate things again in a month. I intend to talk to him again in a few weeks but I have no intention to get back together with him. As I’ve mentioned, it would take a lot for him to get me back. Reading this site has helped me realize how being single and happy is so much better than being in a crappy relationship.

    Reply Link
  • CatsMeow July 7, 2013, 1:35 am

    Sooooo I know it’s a holiday and such, but this is a weekend open thread, right? Where IS everyone? I mean, I feel disoriented. I rarely know what day it is, and now that it’s the weekend and no one is commenting on the weekend thread, I feel like…. is it really the weekend?

    Reply Link

Leave a Comment